UPDATE: Van Dongen accepts lost bid for BC Rail bills

B.C. Supreme Court won't allow "invasion of solicitor-client privilege"

Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen.

Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen.

Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen said he is disappointed, but understands why B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman dismissed a petition for information related to the case of two ministerial assistants convicted for their role in the sale of B.C. Rail operations in 2002.

Auditor General John Doyle made a bid for detailed defence lawyer billings in the case, but Bauman found that Doyle was seeking a “sweeping invasion of solicitor-client privilege” in the case and dismissed his petition to see the documents.

Van Dongen had been granted intervenor status in the case. He said he could “provide insight and analysis” on some of the issues raised in the lawsuit, due to his “extensive experience” as an MLA and former government minister.

Doyle went to court in an effort to complete his review of the BC Rail sale, in which Dave Basi and Bobby Virk pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting a benefit for their role in bidding for BC Rail assets.

Van Dongen said he was pleased to be a part of the process as an intervenor and respects the judge’s decision.

“I learned much throughout the court process and gained significant new knowledge about the issues.”

Seven years of pre-trail manoeuvring came to a sudden end in October 2010, when Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to providing bid information to a Colorado-based railway company, in exchange for a trip to Denver for a football game and other rewards.

The B.C. government’s decision to abandon efforts to recover $6 million in legal fees for the pair sparked a political battle. Two deputy ministers said they made the decision to overrule the policy to recover legal defence fees from government employees if they are found guilty. They concluded it would have added more to legal costs than their assets were worth.

The court documents state that van Dongen has been seeking answers from the government since he first learned that the legal fees had been waived for Basi and Virk.

“The applicant was deeply troubled by the government’s decision to ignore calls for a public inquiry into the Basi-Virk legal fees indemnity waivers,” the documents state.

In a prepared statement issued after he filed the notice, van Dongen said full disclosure by the government is crucial.

“If the auditor general were not able to conduct a thorough performance audit of the disbursement and receipt of taxpayer money, and to report without restriction on that audit to the Legislature, the efficacy of his office would be severely impaired, to the detriment of our democracy.”

Bauman states in his ruling that current B.C. legislation does not give the Auditor General access to privileged materials such as lawyer bills, and his assurance that they would not be widely shared makes no difference.

Bauman also found that the government’s voluntary disclosure of privileged cabinet documents in the case is not relevant to the confidentiality of lawyer bills.